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June 10, 2007

Google's Street View and Privacy

Google's street-level imagery added to Google Maps last week stirred a lot of controversy. Even though the idea is far from new (Amazon's A9 and Microsoft included something similar in the last 2 years), Google's new features received much more press coverage and attention.

Google obtained most of the images from Immersive Media, except for California, where Google got its own images using the van pictured below, in a mirror reflection.


A lot of sites started to gather interesting images found in Google Maps (StreetViewr, Wired, Mashable, davidsterry.com) and the questions about privacy started to rise. Mary Kalin-Casey appeared in New York Times because she saw something very personal in Google Maps: "Monty, her cat, sitting on a perch in the living room window of her second-floor apartment". "The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people's lives. The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged," she said. The image is unclear and the cat is barely visible, but Ms. Casey was shocked to see a photo anyone could've taken, available online.

A Google representative explained that "Street View only features imagery taken on public property. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street." Google also lets you remove inappropriate images, images that infringe on your privacy or present personal security concerns: just click on the help link and flag the current image. Apparently, this does work (here's the image that was removed for the location below - NSFW).


As proud as the Google Maps team may be of the wider coverage of its service, people are concerned about being spotted in strange, funny, or even illegal situations.


Some even suggest to add support for a special "robots.txt" banner. Or maybe we'll all realize that these are mere side-effects of a useful tool that lets you explore a city without being there, or take a virtual walk to a famous place.

24 comments:

  1. Very intr news. How did they do this?

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  2. People's faces, especially those of minors, should be blurred out, as they should not be used for any commercial purpose without written consent. License plates and other personally identifyable information should also be censored or offered on an opt-in basis.

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  3. Come on, people! THESE ARE PUBLIC PLACES!Maybe license plates should be covered? Children should wear facemasks? I any of you happen to see me walking down the street, can I DEMAND that you have your memory of me erased - even if that means removing your brain - else you are invading my privacy?
    If you are so paranoid about being photographed in a public place, I suggest you stay home.

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  4. The one that's linked as "funny"... where's the funny part? I can't see anything funny there. Can anyone explain it to me? :-/

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  5. This comment has been removed because it linked to malicious content. Learn more.

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  6. 'Come on, people! THESE ARE PUBLIC PLACES!Maybe license plates should be covered? Children should wear facemasks?'

    I don't know about in the US, but here in the UK, if anyone takes a picture of a minor and intends to broadcast it publicly, BY LAW, they must obtain the permission of the parent or guardian of that minor before they do so, or take steps to hide those children's identities. Now, if someone takes a picture and posts it on the internet, then that law can be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, and, assuming there is no harmful intent, more often than not, it is too much trouble to hunt down the person responsible. Google is hardly doing this anonymously, nor is it posting these pics on a small, personal website, such as a blog. They are doing this on a massive scale, as a result of their 'street view' idea, and doing it on a website that is rather well known, and actively promoting people to come and use that website.

    Now, I would have serious concerns about this invading my privacy, not to mention the possible criminal uses. For example, what if a burglar used Google Street View to check out what houses in a particular street had alarm boxes? He no longer has to hang around and scout that out, and risk being reported as a suspicious prowler - he can just log onto Google Maps from the comfort of his own home.

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  7. Via Wired, here's what you need to do in order to remove an image from Maps Street View:

    << To request removal of your image from Street View, you must demonstrate that you are the person shown in the panorama you would like removed. We will not take action if you are reporting on behalf of someone else (such as a friend, relative or stranger), except that you may report on behalf of your minor child. To show that you are the person in the image you would like removed, you must provide us with the information specified below. To expedite our ability to process your request, please use the following format on your verification form:

    1. Provide your legal name.

    2. Provide your e-mail address.

    3. Provide the street view address of the Street View image you would like removed.

    4. Include the sworn statement: "I declare, under penalty of perjury, that the information in this notification is accurate."

    5. Attach a clear, readable copy of a valid photo ID (e.g. driver's license, national ID card, etc). If you are requesting removal of an image of a location, attach a copy of a document demonstrating your association with that location ( e.g. business card or letterhead).

    6. Please e-mail your completed verification form, along with the necessary attachment, to maps-legal@google.com within 5 days. If you are unable to upload a copy of your photo ID electronically in an e-mail, you may also fax us a copy of your form and photo ID to (650) 887-0389.

    We will temporarily remove the Street View image pending receipt of your ID verification. If we have not received a copy of your photo ID within 5 days, then we will restore the panorama back to Street View. Please note that we will investigate your complaint and take action as needed. >>

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  8. I am offended by the aggressiveness by wich Google is pushing/defending its new "street view" technology. I guess now that the rest of the market has caught up with mapping capabilities - google is fighting tooth and nail to be differentiated in this space - even at the expense/safety/concern of the public

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  9. I, too am offended by how aggressively google defends themself. The pictures and streets open many cans of worms. A thief would find this useful. What if someone uses this to stalk anyone? Child predators, anyone? Landmarks and public buildings, maybe, but my home is just that, mine, and I don't think any mapping service needs to provide that much detail. I'll give directions to those I wish to have to my house, thank you.

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  10. I don't like it...I live in a upper middle class neighborhood. I have lived there for the past 9 years with no issues. It's the kind of place you feel safe leaving your doors unlocked.....not anymore. My vehicle was in the picture on street view and last week it was broken into....coincidence....I doubt it...I think this is a great tool for theives...

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  11. This tool also serves no real buisness purpose except to create controversy and take a little more of our privacy away....shame on you Google....

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  12. Come on people. are all you naysayers out there complete idiots. How is a picture of a kid walking down the street going to endanger him? (especially since ther is not a sign on him saying my name is Billy madison, I live at... and my phone number is...) Use some sence. To the person that thinks his car was broken into because it was pictured on G maps You are a complete Idiot. That is like saying that because I took you picture and put it on the internet all of the Hollywood divas will Fall deeply in love with you.

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  13. My house was broken into and quite a few houses and cars were broken into in my neighbourhood after the street view came into effect. Ours is a safe neighbourhood and based on my assumption, the lowlife (the one who broke in) used the photos to detect where the backdoor was and that it did not have additional security such as a security door (in Australia we use additional metal door that opens outwards as a security door). This is a real life example of the security concerns highlighted. Google can go ahead and maintain street view for places of interest and such but not individual's house!!!

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  14. How about someone sets up a webcam in front of the homes of the head honchos at Google? I think that'd be sweet. I agree with everyone that has expressed concern about who can see what with street view. I am curious how difficult a class action lawsuit would be to bring against google for this. I imagine that the fact that corporations and their possession of individual rights would come into play, but who knows, maybe then that ridiculous idea that a corporation holds the same rights as a person could be stricken down.

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  15. Sorry you were broke into Antony but did the burglar really need street view to know where your back door was. Was it not er "around back"?

    Some burglars pride themselves on knowing where back doors are without the need for 21st century help.

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  16. Anonymous, you are missing the point. Read my blog carefully, it says burglars usually scope the house for weak points and with the images they can view that my house does not have "security doors" (read my blog for what is a security door) and this act is usually done by burglars driving around and with street view they don't have to do that!

    I don't need another smart comment like yours to add fuel to my misfortune. Thanks for your fake empathy!!!

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  17. I think that Google street view of homes should be made illegal because of privacy issues, or that Google should have to ask each home owner for permission before posting the photo.

    My neighborhood is very quiet and I have gone outside to investigate autos that loiter for very long. I don't have the opportunity to investigate (and call the cops if needed) on Google street view prowlers.

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  18. Are there any photos of goverment buildings? Mi5 \ 6?

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  19. get a grip its pictures on google maps its not az if they are being used unnecisarily

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  20. It would appear that, in general, the defenders of this invasion of privacy are somewhat lacking in education as exhibited by the poor English grammer. One can't help but wonder whether or not these individuals come from an inner city area where privacy is not an issue of any importance.

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  21. Humble apologies; I slipped into the vernacular - for grammer please read grammar.

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  22. It's simple. Some people don't want their house to be displayed on the 'net for all to see, especially when you can zoom in to the closest detail. Thieves could look at different pictures and note details like whether windows are open or not!

    This is a disgrace, Google.

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